In 1869, two laborers were digging a well when they hit an unusual piece of stone three feet under the dirt. Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols kept digging, eventually uncovering what looked like a gigantic human foot.
"I declare, some old Indian has been buried here!" one of them said. As they kept clearing the soil, they found what appeared to be a petrified man, more than 3 meters (10 feet) tall, going some way to explain the enormous clown foot.
The two believed they had found an ancient giant, confirmation that the Holy Bible was correct. Naturally, the owner of the land started hawking tickets. At first, they charged 25 cents, before raising it to 50 cents when they were flooded with visitors. If things didn't calm down fast, they would have to consider a Groupon.
“The roads were crowded with buggies, carriages, and even omnibuses from the city,” Cornell University’s president, Andrew White wrote of the crowds. “And with lumber-wagons from the farms — all laden with passengers.”
Visitors took the giant as proof that ancient scripture describing giants was correct, and that maybe this guy was even one of the famous ones specifically referenced in the Bible. To be fair to the onlookers, the "giant" was fairly convincing and even appeared to have pores all over its body. People were faced with the possibility that giants were real, and they too may have been self-conscious about acne.
However, obviously, the giant was not real. In fact, the laborers had been made to look silly by the landowner's cousin – a man who had gotten into such a heated argument with a preacher that he decided to head out and bury a giant stone man the previous year.
In 1868, cigar-maker George Hull had been talking to methodist revivalist Rev. Mr. Turk, who took the scripture literally and believed that biblical giants were real. Later that night, the atheist decided that he could ridicule the view by creating a stone giant and passing it off as the real thing, taking the argument to lengths not seen again until the launch of Twitter.
He ordered a large gypsum block from an Iowa quarry, telling the sellers it was for a Lincoln memorial statue. He then got a statue maker to create the fake – even going as far as to have pores pounded into the statue with knitting needles, and making it look weathered using acids.
The prank had cost him $3,000, but he more than made his money back when a group of businessmen paid up $30,000 for a stake in the man-shaped lump of rock. This was likely seen as a bonus by atheist Hull, who was mainly motivated by making fundamentalist Christians say silly things like "I declare, look at this very real big boy!" or the ye-olde-speak equivalent.
Despite the large amount of cash generated by the hoax, it backfired in its aim to make people realize how silly the idea of gigantic humans was. PT Barnum soon made a replica of the giant and began parading it as real. When the owners of the original fake giant attempted to stop Barnum from displaying it, the judge said “bring your giant here, and if he swears to his own genuineness as a bona fide petrifaction, you shall have the injunction you ask for," which was fair enough to be honest.
In the end, the fake ended up being copied many times over, convincing more and more people that gigantic humans were real. People flocked to see the hoaxes.
Next time you uncover what appears to be a gigantic human, have a quick think about whether it might just be a rock.